From the first notes of Concord Records, Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby: The Original Jam Sessions 1969 (CCD-2257), you know you're in for quite a ride. Authentic interplay, vintage 1969, the heaviest musicians on the planet enjoying a fresh, loose, funk-loving romp and obviously savoring the opportunity to stretch their jazz legs. Follow up with Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby: The New Mixes, Vol. I (CCD-2262) and come full circle on this companion CD, several of the hippest contemporary groups and artists put their own distinctive spin on various elements from the original sessions.
While Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby are today considered two of the most prominent and accomplished entertainers in America, the 52-episodes of NBC's "The Bill Cosby Show"(1969 - 1971) were among their first notable television credits and gave both artists a chance to exercise their creative limbs. Jones, as musical director, assembled a crack team of jazz artists to bring his musical vision to fruition: Jimmy Smith, Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Joe Sample, Tom Scott, Les McCann, and just about every other prominent jazz and funk artist of the era. During the program's run, Jones essentially left the tape recorder running during numerous informal jams, which included outtakes and several comedic vocal cameos by Cosby. Somehow the tapes ended up in the vault and were forgotten until over 30 years later when Jones was moving into new office space and re-discovered the "lost tapes."
"We discovered some boxes labeled 'Quincy, Jimmy Smith and Oscar, 1969,' and about fell out of our chairs," notes Marc Cazorla, executive producer for Quincy Jones Music (along with Nancie Stern). "We listened to several hours of music, paired it down to album length and began to look around to find someone that would be interested in releasing this material, eventually finding a home with Concord." Cazorla and Stern suggested the release of two albums - one of the original sessions and another featuring several contemporary artists and Jones gave his go ahead. "Quincy's really into bridging the old with the new," he continues. "A lot of people don't really realize the impact that jazz has had on modern music, and Quincy's always looking to turn people on to something fresh. Both he and Bill were completely supportive of the idea."
There are two original session versions of the near-cult favorite 'Hikky-Burr' on The Original Jam Sessions, one instrumental and one with Bill Cosby on vocals. The first features Eddie Harris (tenor sax), Marvin Stamm (trumpet), Arthur Adams (guitar), Milt Jackson (vibes), Joe Sample (Fender Rhodes), Ray Brown (bass) and John Guerin (drums); on the vocal version, Cosby is joined by Adams, Sample, Paul Humphrey (drums) and Carol Kaye (bass). The producers also included The New Mixes version of "Hikky-Burr," by Mix Master Mike, as a bonus track featuring Cosby's vocals and several choice elements from the original sessions.
"Bill and Quincy co-wrote "Hikky-Burr" as the theme song for the show," explains Cazorla (Jones received his first of four EMMY nominations for the tune; he would eventually win for "Roots"). "Quincy recorded it as a single in the early '70s for his GRAMMY Award-winning Smackwater Jack album, but this is a looser take on the tune. This was a great line-up of guys, getting together to hang out and play a few tunes. You can't expect guys like these to play by the rules, keep quiet on breaks," he adds. "It's more like having them over to jam in your living room. The noise, the talking, the tape hiss, what's the point of cleaning all that up? There are too many records like that get a bit too sanitized and lose some of their soul in the process."
Each of the remaining eight cuts on The Original Jam Sessions is energized by an all-star line-up. "Groovy Gravy," a long upbeat jam, features Les McCann (piano), Ernie Watts (tenor sax), Adams and Guerin. "I remember seeing Les perform with Eddie Harris live at a concert in Ghana in the early '70s and fell in love with his groove," says Cazorla. "This is a long cut, but you don't feel like eight minutes are passing. It's one of my favorites on the record."
"Monty, Is That You?" features the always charismatic Monty Alexander on Fender Rhodes, along with legendary bassist Ray Brown, and the unmistakable Joe Sample, who is also featured on "Toe Jam," jammin' with a smokin' Tom Scott on soprano sax and the incomparable clarity of a swinging Victor Feldman on a vibes solos. And, speaking of swingin', "Jimmy Cookin' On Top" is a tasty interlude that features Jimmy Smith, the B-3 man himself, banging away all on his own.
Brown and Humphrey once again provide the groove all the way through "Jive Den," a cool little samba that features trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, an unidentified guitarist (there are no record of who actually performed during the sessions) and Clare Fischer on Fender Rhodes. "Eubie Walkin," is an extended homage to Eubie Blake with Ernie Watts on tenor sax, a distinctive intro by Joe Sample on Fender Rhodes, and Arthur Adams on guitar, among others. "Cosby used to say Eubie walked so slow, but came alive when he played," laughs Cazorla. Jackson returns for "Oh Happy Day," the only tune on the disc that's not an original, along with pianist Monty Alexander, Brown and Humphrey.
"We are so fortunate to have found these rare recordings and this incredible ensemble of legendary musicians," continues Cazola. Phenomenal players all, in fact, assembled in that most rare of settings: loose, funky, open, informal, fun and definitely full of hip musical ideas. "Nothing was scripted, nothing was sculpted. Quincy and Bill would just give them ideas and let them go," says Cazorla. "It was all based on a love of jazz."
Hikky-Burr (feat. Bill Cosby)
Hikky-Burr (Mix Master Mike remix)